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The Truth About Betrayal Trauma

by | Betrayal Trauma


Tragically, the sex addiction therapy community has twisted the term “betrayal trauma” into something it is not. When victims know the truth about betrayal trauma, they can find healing, hope and peace.

Kathleen, a resilient and courageous member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community, joins Anne on the free BTR podcast to share her story.

Kathleen spent over a decade over her head in the sex addiction world, trying to find safety for her family while her husband continued to abuse and betray her. When she finally learned the truth about what betrayal trauma is and why she was suffering from it she was able take the steps she needed to find true safety. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR podcast for more.

Betrayal Trauma: The Result of Abuse, Not Addiction

A man’s “addiction” cannot and does not cause betrayal trauma.

Betrayal trauma is the result of abuse.

Betrayal, in and of itself, is abuse (this includes pornography use).

When women courageously accept that they are not married to a troubled, diseased “addict” (though some abusers may also be addicted), but to an abuser, they able to tackle the real issue and find safety.

Victims who are told to view their abuser as a sex addict and themselves as a codependent are like a heart attack patient being told to visit an eye doctor. It just doesn’t make sense.

Because betrayal trauma is the result of abuse. Not addiction.

What Makes Betrayal Trauma Worse?

Tragically, some of the recommendations that CSATs make to victims of betrayal trauma are the very things that cause them serious harm and compound their betrayal trauma.

So what makes betrayal trauma worse?

  • Engaging with the abuser: abusers will blame, shame, gaslight, turn tables, lie to, criticize, love-bomb, and re-traumatize victims. When CSATs, clergy, and others counsel traumatized women to share their feelings, ask questions, or work on their communication with the abuser, they are sending a lamb to the slaughter. Instead, victims should avoid engaging with the abuser and set boundaries that protect them from the harm that comes from conversations and associations with partners who are known to harm them.
  • Counseling and confiding in clergy: clergy-induced trauma is tragically common in betrayal trauma victims. When couples are counseled to meet together with clergy, or women confide one-on-one with religious leaders and clergy disbelieve, minimize, betray, or humiliate the victim, the secondary trauma can be debilitating beyond words. Instead, trauma victims need to spend their time with trauma-informed professionals.
  • Isolation and secrecy: CSATs may counsel women to keep the “problems in the marriage” private. This is problematic because pornography use and abuse are not a marriage problem – they are his problem. And essentially, by telling the victim to “keep it private”, victims are being told to stay silent and isolated. An isolated victim is exactly what an abuser wants.

What Can Help You Heal From Betrayal Trauma?

You Can Heal From Betrayal Trauma

Betrayal trauma can feel debilitating, overwhelming, and insurmountable. It can also feel deeply lonely.

But you can heal. You can find peace. You can find yourself again.

Victims of betrayal trauma need a strong and steady supportive group of safe people to rely on as they begin their healing journey. They need abuse and trauma education: the BTR podcast and curated list of books that BTR recommends are a great place to start. Victims need validation and unconditional acceptance from a safe community of other women who understand.

Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group today and begin your healing journey.

Remember, you are not alone.

Full Transcript:

Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery. This is Anne. We have Kathleen, a member of our community, on today’s podcast. She’s going to share her story. Before we get to that, here is someone who rated this podcast on Apple podcasts that gave us a five-star review. They say: They get it. It is life-giving to know you will be believed when no one else knows and to know you are not crazy, it is the fog of abuse. This podcast and the BTR support group are giving me the strength I need to make a plan and get to safety. I will be forever grateful for this work.

Thank you to those of you who have reviewed the podcast. Every single one of your ratings helps isolated women find us.

Remember, the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group is here for you. We’d love to see you in a session today.

Kathleen, A Member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Community

I have a member of our community on today’s episode, we’re going to call her Kathleen. She’s going to just start right in with her backstory. Then we’re going to talk to her about what happened. So welcome Kathleen.

Kathleen: Hi Anne. Thanks for having me on today.

Anne: Yes. We are grateful that you are brave enough to share your story to help other women. Sharing your story helps us to heal. So why don’t you start with your backstory. What was your situation?

Discovering Her Husband’s Betrayal

Kathleen: So, I guess from day one of my marriage I just felt like something just was not right. I could never put my finger on it. We were, I thought happily married, had a child and then shortly after my second child was born, I just had a feeling that something was not right. And I found out, unfortunately, that my husband was into pornography, and that was just devastating.

I just felt like everything was over, although I didn’t want to leave the marriage. I just felt like my perfect world with my newer marriage, my two sweet children, our sweet little family was just ruined. It just was not what I thought it was, and we immediately tried to get help. He unfortunately was lying to me about the cause of his use of pornography.

Betrayal Trauma Is Compounded When Abusers Blame Their Victims

He blamed it on my pregnancy with my first and second child. I later found out that he was using porn since he was a child. He was about eight years old when he started. Long story short, many years down the road found out that his brother and cousin had sexually abused him. So, just for years, it went on, him dabbling in help, never getting real help or getting into recovery. And I just kept with it, trying to stay strong, trying to stay in the marriage. I never even really thought about leaving the marriage.

But we just kept going, and we had our good times and then our bad times. And when things were bad, they were very bad things. Things were good sometimes, but it was really not much to hold on to. So, we went on like this for probably 14-15 years, until we started to get help together. Through working with them over about a two-year period I started to see, and they also started to see, that my husband just did not want to do the work to get better. So, we had to stop working with him, which then made us pretty much come to a halt. We separated about two summers ago for three months. He was able to come back, and about two months after that he was out for good, and since then, he’s blamed me for everything.

Betrayal Trauma Is The Result Of Abuse, Not Addiction

Anne: So, let’s talk about those years of thinking he has a porn addiction, and going down that route and for a little while. Did you ever consider that you were dealing with an emotional and psychological abuser?

Kathleen: I had no idea. I had no idea.

Anne: And did anyone ever mentioned it to you? Like, he’s using porn, he’s doing this… did anyone ever say, “Have you ever considered that you’re in an abusive relationship”?

Kathleen: No, never. If anything, it was the opposite. It was, let’s help him. Let’s see what we could do to help him.

Anne: Or, he’s such a good guy, we can’t understand why he’s doing this thing. Let’s get him some help.

Kathleen: Absolutely. Yeah, or his path. You know, he had a rough upbringing, so this is why he’s doing it.

Anne: Right. Yeah, I often say, I know several people who have had a super hard upbringing, and they’re not abusers. So, it’s not really a reason to be abusive. He went for years to a well-known Catholic counselor and men’s purity groups. Do you feel like they really understand the abusive nature of this for the victims?

Counseling With Clergy Is Not A Cure For Abuse Or Betrayal Trauma (In Fact, Clergy-Induced Trauma Makes Things Much Worse)

Kathleen: Absolutely not. We started off with this one counselor that was the well-known Catholic counselor in the porn field, and I started to feel like they were blaming me. I was about to be blamed in this situation and I just bailed quickly. Something in my gut told me to get away. So then, last year or so I heard that he might have changed the way he was helping women and couples, so I decided I’ll give it another try. It was at least 15 years later, and unfortunately, it was just the same thing. So, there was one session and done. So no, there was no change, and it was very unfortunate because these seem to be the people that are known to be, you know, turned to when you have a problem, and it just causes more trauma for the women.

Anne: Right. So, what are some of the things that the priest said to you or did that were so traumatizing that ended up blaming you, rather than holding the perpetrator accountable?

Clergy-Induced Trauma Deepens The Effects of Betrayal Trauma

Kathleen: In my parish?

Anne: Yeah.

Kathleen: Yeah, so I actually was being supported by my parish priest.

Anne: When you mean support, do you mean financially?

Kathleen: Not financially, there’s really no financial support. It was just emotional support. He listened. He understood. He was the one who suggested I might have to have a separation with my husband, which I took that very seriously, and maybe four months later we separated. And I guess after my husband went and talked to the pastor of the church, the pastor and the parish priests, both decided to take sides with him, which I don’t even know why a side had to be taken.

Anne: I can tell you why.

Kathleen: Go ahead.

There Is No “Neutral” In An Abusive Relationship: There’s The Perpetrator. There’s The Victim. That’s It.

Anne: A side does need to be taken. A neutral party will always benefit the perpetrator. So, a side does need to be taken. The problem is most of the time they side with the perpetrator instead of the victim because in an abuse situation, there is a perpetrator and a victim. So if you stay neutral and say, “Well, she’s got her side of the story and he has his side of the story and the truth is somewhere in the middle,” that means that you can kind of believe what he is saying a little bit. Or maybe she’s lying a little bit.

They do this rather than recognizing: no this is a perpetrator who is going to do everything he can to avoid accountability and blame his victim, and a victim who’s telling the truth, who’s trying to get to safety. Right. So, it’s really important for people to take sides but they need to take sides with the right party. They need to protect the victim and stop the perpetrator from doing any more harm. But I just think it’s interesting that any type of neutrality, or even thinking, well, he couldn’t be that bad, is really harmful to the victim.

Betrayal Trauma Is Compounded When Abusers Start Their “Smear Campaign”

Kathleen: Right. And that’s a lot of what I’ve been experiencing. He’s been getting into the ear of anybody who knew us and telling them how horrible I have been. Getting back to the priest, the priest was the one who was spreading that I was a liar and I have manipulated the entire situation. Anybody in this situation that I was in would have taken his advice, which was to get help. I didn’t even know what help he was talking about.

Anne: Also, people don’t understand that an abuser claiming that his victim is the abuser is abuse.

Kathleen: Absolutely.

Anne: Right, so this abuse is not only extended to him lying to everybody about you and blaming you, but also roping third party people like a priest in your parish or other people to also abuse you through blaming you.

Kathleen: That’s exactly what’s happening now, and I can honestly say that this secondary abuse is way worse than what I experienced directly from my husband.

Secondary Abuse And Betrayal Trauma

Anne: Why would you say that? I agree with you I’ve experienced that as well, and I agree but for our listeners, in your opinion, why do you think that is?

Kathleen: Well, I think first of all is my own healthy pride, I guess. I want to be an upstanding Christian and a good person. And now people see me as a liar and a manipulator, which I’m not. The other part of it is, you know, I’ve lost my community. I had to leave my church and go to a different church. It’s very hard because I feel like a lot of people look down their nose at me. I just tried to hold my head high and have faith in God to get me through it.

Abuse Causes Betrayal Trauma

Anne: So, when did you realize that all of these years of “something’s not quite right” and he’s got this porn issue… when did you realize that that was just flat-out, emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion?

Kathleen: I always knew that it wasn’t right. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but I didn’t realize it was abuse until after our second separation. I actually was just surfing the internet one night looking at abuse and decided to call our local shelter. I called and said, “I don’t know if I’m being abused.” From the information that I gave them about what had happened to me, they assured me that I he was absolutely abusing me. And they also helped me to see other behaviors that had happened in our marriage were abuse that I didn’t even realize was wrong. I mean, he has emotionally, psychologically, financially, and even physically abused me. I didn’t even realize he was physically abusing me.

Identifying Abuse Can Help Victims of Betrayal Trauma

Anne: Did that shock you? You’d never called an abuse specialist before, right? You’d always called maybe a marriage counselor or some type of clergy, or some kind of pornography addiction specialist. So, were you shocked that immediately right out of the gate these people had never talked to you before were like, “Yeah, this is super abusive,” and that you’d never heard it from anyone else?

Kathleen: I was, and I thought it was such a disadvantage. Going through this, it was always focusing on his porn addiction. I was always searching for porn addiction for spouses, you know, the help for that, and I couldn’t find anything. It was mind-boggling and maddening to know that there was nothing out there, especially with the growing numbers of pornography abuse. The only thing I could find for women was that sometimes women abused porn as well. But that wasn’t my situation.

“I Knew In My Gut It Was Not A Marriage Issue”

I was somebody being, you know, mistreated in a marriage where my husband was using pornography, and that was part of it. I never really wanted to go to marriage counseling. For some reason, I knew in my gut it was not a marriage issue. I knew it was a porn issue and his problem from his childhood. So, I was grateful for that. But it was really hard to find help.

Anne: When did you find BTR?

Kathleen: I think I found it probably about a year and a half or maybe two years ago. Just happened to find BTR online and saw that there was a podcast and religiously started to listen because it was the only place that really got it.

Trying To “Help” Our “Diseased” (Abusive) Husbands Makes Betrayal Trauma Symptoms Worse (And Puts Women In Serious Danger)

Anne: What did you think after years of helping him? Be gentle with him because he’s had his childhood problems, you know. Let’s try not to trigger him, don’t shame him, you know, those types of, are you a good wife, are you giving him sex when he needs it, you know, whatever things you got. What did you think after coming to BTR and listening? What did that feel like for you?

Kathleen: I guess I just felt like there was a place that understood what it really was. And I knew that it was just the right place to be to get the information that I needed to educate myself. So, a lot of this I knew, but I didn’t really educate myself until after I was separated from my husband.

Heal From Betrayal Trauma By Separating Yourself From Abusive Behaviors And People

Anne: Well, it’s like you know it in your gut, but you don’t have words for it. You don’t have a place to process it appropriately because if you try to process it with like the pornography addiction people and they tell you, “No, it’s you, and you need to be patient.” It kind of stops you, and so you can’t quite ever… it’s like floating around, but you can’t ever grab it. It’s like foggy and you can’t quite get out of that fog.

Kathleen: Right. I always knew like I would have the gut feeling, and I would, thankfully, go with my gut feeling but I could never put my finger on where things were going wrong. I mean, I never caught him using porn again. And I always was killing myself with the question: is he using or is he not? He claims sobriety, but based on what I know now and looking back, I know he’s still using.

Abusive Porn Users Are Master Manipulators

I know he was because I know the way he behaved. I know the way that he kept me at a distance. He wouldn’t engage with me at all emotionally, which devastated me. It was like I was a stranger in our house, but outside he acted like husband of the year. He would consult me in front of other people. He would act like he was just so in love when he was with me in public, which is part of the reason why people just don’t understand the situation and they believe him that I’m the liar and the manipulator.

Anne: When you changed your outward talk from he’s a porn addict to he’s abusive, did the third party people get angrier with you? Were they like, “Whoa, wait a minute! You said he’s a porn addict! Now you’re claiming he’s an abuser.” Did they get more upset?

Kathleen: Well, not really, because nobody knew he was a porn user, that was kept secret. It was my own private secret that I lived in. My family didn’t know, our friends didn’t know, nobody knew.

Victims Of Betrayal Trauma Live In Varying Levels of Isolation And Secrecy

Anne: Okay, so you weren’t telling people this?

Kathleen: I didn’t tell people. I was very much ashamed that that was in our marriage.

Anne: Okay. Did you start telling people when you recognize that was abuse? Did you start saying, “I’m in an abusive relationship?”

Kathleen: Right. Once we were separated for the second time and it was pretty much out there that we were no longer together. Yes, I was telling people that he had abused pornography and that he was abusive and I was trying to get myself to safety.

Anne: How did that go over with safe people? I guess it went over well if they are safe. Sorry, that’s a stupid question.

Safe People Can Help You Heal From Betrayal Trauma

Kathleen: Absolutely went over well. Absolutely. My family has been so supportive, tremendously supportive, even more than I even thought that they could be. And I’ve had friends that I wasn’t that close with, but they understood because of their own experiences through their lives that they became a rock, like a rock to me. But then a lot of people that I thought I could count on, just disappeared or sided with him.

Anne: Yeah, I’ve seen that happen too. It’s really interesting, even a couple of friends that we had that her husband is also a porn user have decided to side with my ex. And I just think that’s really interesting, but they’re still married so I wonder if they think, “Well, if we talk to Anne, you know, she’s so intent on calling this abuse, maybe our marriage would be in jeopardy, so we don’t really want to go down that route.” I’m not sure why they decided to do that, but he’s still exhibiting abusive behaviors from my perspective, but of course, they can’t see that. So, I’m like, why would you want to be friends with an abuser? That makes no sense to me.

The Clarity That Comes From Safety Can Help You Heal From Betrayal Trauma

Kathleen: Right.

Anne: And also, I think we can clearly see that they’re lying and manipulating people, but they can’t see it.

Kathleen: No, and, you know, there’s a part of me that has little sympathy for the third-party people. I believed my husband’s lies for years. I mean, my whole relationship was based on lies.

Anne: Yep, well, and if we couldn’t see it, right, like they don’t even live with him so of course, it would be hard for them to see it too.

Kathleen: Right. He’s good at lying.

Anne: Yeah, good at manipulation, good at grooming, really.

Kathleen: Absolutely.

Anne: So, a lot of women who are hoping that their relationship is going to work out and hoping that once he’s confronted about his abusive behaviors that he can get into some type of program and get help. And if they go down the pornography addiction recovery route, many CSATs do what is known as a full disclosure, where the abuser is supposed to outline all of his sexual indiscretions but doesn’t necessarily include all abuse episodes. So, since you went down that route for a little while. Did you ever have a “full disclosure” with the help of a pornography addiction specialist?

“Therapeutic” Or “Full” Disclosures Can Be Weaponized By Abusers And Further Compound Betrayal Trauma

Kathleen: No, unfortunately, I did not. Anything that I found out about my husband was either me finding out by catching him or him over the years, basically drip-feeding me information, and I would figure things out.

Anne: You say unfortunately. Is that something that you think would have helped you, or why did you say, unfortunately?

Kathleen: Well, I guess I say unfortunately because without any truth there is no basis for your relationship, and I never received truth. So, I feel like that’s part of the reason or the main reason why my marriage fell apart. It was just never down to make it from the get-go, but if I had some truth, at some point, if he was truthful with me, I feel like maybe we could have fixed things and worked on it better.

Anne: I think it’s interesting because a lot of people get a full disclosure, but it’s not a full disclosure. So, there are times where they claim to have told the whole truth, but it’s not the full truth and that fake full truth is very, very difficult for victims because they think, oh, finally we have the whole truth, but they don’t.

Abusers Often Use The “Full Disclosure” Process To Groom Victims

The other thing I think is interesting is fake histories that they might give as excuses. So, I am not about to say that your husband wasn’t actually abused, but some of them do say things like that as an excuse. For example, I know of one abuser who told his victim that his neighbor sexually abused him, but she is now 100% convinced that he was the one that sexually abused the neighbor.

Kathleen: I believe there could be some truth to that. I always took what my husband told me with a grain of salt, but being that he said he was abused, I took it seriously just to protect my children.

Anne: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think that’s one thing that’s difficult to know when you’re dealing with an abusive and manipulative man who is willing to lie at all costs. That the truth that you think you know might not even be the truth at all, and full disclosure, might not even be a full disclosure.

You Can Heal From Betrayal Trauma Without A Full Disclosure (Because Chances Are, It Wouldn’t Be Truthful Anyway)

So, I want to give women who are like, man, I wish I could have gotten the full disclosure or, you know, I wish he would have told me the truth, and let them know that if someone does not want to tell you the full truth, they might pretend to give it to you, and that might be just as harmful as not knowing anything. I don’t know how to say it any differently, but if there’s no way on earth, and I literally mean on earth, like perhaps after we die God will help us know exactly what the truth is, but when we’re dealing with someone who lies at this scale, what worries me is the fake truth that women think that they receive and then they feel safe because they feel like they’ve received it all when it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Kathleen: That’s a good point. I think that with, you know, my husband, the way he is, nothing that ever came out of his mouth to me was truthful. So, I really don’t trust that what he told me is the whole truth and the absolute truth. I know there was so much more.

Support the BTR Podcast

Anne: We’re going to pause here and continue Kathleen’s story next week. Stay tuned.

If this podcast has been helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.

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  1. Debbie

    In the case of abusive people, like those with narcissistic personality disorder, they can also tell you their “story” and it may or may not be true, or parts of it may be true, but people like this start believing their own lies and it becomes their “reality”. So when you are communicating with people with personality disorders or pathologically driven issues, remember that their “truth” can be a manufactured part of their own “reality”. It is scary if you think about it, how disturbed these people we lived with can be.

    • Sandra

      This ^^^^^

  2. Ann

    Thank you for sharing your story, Kathleen. My experience is very similar. If the church as a whole followed the New Testament discipline for abuse and sexual sin, then maybe we could trust their help. But, until then, it is not a safe place for victims. Thanks Anne for all you do!

  3. Michelle Mejia

    I’m wondering what it was the local shelter considered abuse? It would’ve been good if more of that was expounded on because of heard of other women calling and then saying it’s not abuse.

    • Anne Blythe

      Some shelters don’t help women who “only” experience emotional and psychological abuse. Some shelters only help if there has been a crime involved. BTR specializes in emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion.

  4. Karen

    I was introduced to this site by a member of my Facebook Covert Narcissism support group. This story resonated with me SO MUCH! I was in a 35 year relationship with additional personality complications as well as challenges with pornography. I cannot wait for Part II. I have already listened to Part I multiple times. I glean something new every time I listen to it. Phenomenal work you are doing in this organization!

    • Anonymous



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